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Daniel Ellsberg and the Vietnam War

Learn more about the life of Daniel Ellsberg, his involvement with the Vietnam War and the publication of the Pentagon Papers

Timeline

1931 Ellsberg is born in Chicago. He is raised in Detroit.
1952 Ellsberg graduates from Harvard University summa cum laude and receives a fellowship to study economics at Cambridge.
1954 Ellsberg voluntarily enters the U.S. Marine Corps and serves as a platoon leader. He then resumes his graduate studies at Harvard, where he earns his Ph.D.
1959 Specializing in crisis decision-making and the command and control of nuclear weapons, Ellsberg is hired as a strategic analyst at the RAND Corporation, a California think-tank. While at RAND, Ellsberg consults with the Pentagon under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara during the Kennedy administration. Ellsberg visits South Vietnam with a research team to examine problems with non-nuclear, limited warfare.
August 1964 Ellsberg starts working for the Defense Department as assistant to John McNaughton (assistant secretary of defense and a close advisor to McNamara).
August 1964 During Ellsberg's first day on the job, President Lyndon Johnson goes on television and alleges that there have been two attacks by North Vietnamese forces on U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. He asks for authority to respond with military force, launching what will be an eight-year bombing campaign against Vietnam. The validity of Johnson's claim is later questioned, and it comes to be considered one of many presidential lies that led to U.S. escalation in Vietnam.
April 17, 1965 Ellsberg and Patricia Marx go on their first date, in Washington, D.C., to the first anti-Vietnam War rally organized by Students for a Democratic Society.
1965-1967 Ellsberg serves in Vietnam as a civilian on special assignment for the U.S. Department of State, studying counter-insurgency.
June 1967 McNamara assembles a team of analysts (many of whom previously worked for RAND, including Ellsberg), headed by Leslie Gelb and Morton Halperin to draft a full history of U.S. political involvement in Vietnam. The report is titled "History of U.S. Decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-68" and is finished in late 1968. By then, McNamara has resigned as secretary of defense and the study is never officially distributed or acted upon.
January 31-February 7,1968 Rebel forces in North Vietnam launch surprise attacks on U.S. troops in major cities in South Vietnam. This series of attacks, known as the "Tet Offensive," exposes the vulnerability of the U.S. military mission and leads most analysts and journalists to view the war as a stalemate.
March 1968 Clark Clifford replaces McNamara as secretary of defense.
March 31, 1968 On national television, President Johnson announces a halt of the bombing of North Vietnam and then shocks the nation when he continues, "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president."
November 1968 Running on an inference that he has a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam, Republican Richard Nixon defeats Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey in the election for president of the United States.
December 1968 Ellsberg first meets with Henry Kissinger, national security advisor to president-elect Richard Nixon, to advise him on options in the U.S. military action in Vietnam. Kissinger and Ellsberg will continue to have a relationship during the first two years of Nixon's presidency.
September 1969 Ellsberg meets draft resister and antiwar activist Randy Kehler, whose willingness to go to prison based on his opposition to the war makes a great impact on Ellsberg. Shortly thereafter, Ellsberg finishes reading a copy of the entire McNamara study, which reveals a pattern of escalation of the war, even in the face of evidence that the war is unwinnable. The study also reveals lies told to the public about U.S. military actions. Ellsberg is inspired to take action against what he now sees as "a wrongful war."
October 1969 Ellsberg begins photocopying the Pentagon Papers. Over the next 20 months, he gives copies of the papers to members of Congress, including antiwar Senators William Fulbright and George McGovern and Congressman Pete McCloskey. None of these members of Congress make the papers public during this time.
August 1970 Daniel Ellsberg and Patricia Marx are married; Marx changes her name to Ellsberg.
March 1971 Ellsberg meets with reporter Neil Sheehan of The New York Times and shows him the top-secret McNamara study. Sheehan, reporter Hedrick Smith and a handful of other New York Times reporters and editors begin working on a massive story based on the Pentagon Papers, while lawyers at The New York Times debate whether they can, and should, publish top-secret government documents.
June 13, 1971 The New York Times publishes its first stories on the top-secret report, which soon becomes known as the Pentagon Papers. The stories include excerpts and documents from the study itself.
June 15, 1971 Invoking "prior restraint," the government obtains from the court a temporary injunction to stop The New York Times from publishing any more material from the Pentagon Papers.
June 17, 1971 Daniel and Patricia Ellsberg go underground after Daniel Ellsberg is identified by reporter Sidney Zion as the probable source for the Pentagon Papers.
June 18, 1971 The Washington Post publishes excerpts of the Pentagon Papers but is immediately enjoined from publishing additional excerpts. Eventually, 17 other papers will publish portions of the report.
June 28, 1971 Ellsberg surrenders to face criminal charges under the Espionage Act.
June 29, 1971 Alaska Senator Mike Gravel convenes a hearing of the Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Grounds in the middle of the night (and only he attends). He reads the Pentagon Papers aloud for three hours, officially entering them into the Senate record.
June 30, 1971 The U.S. Supreme Court overturns all the injunctions against publishing the Pentagon Papers with a decision in The New York Times Co. v. United States, a victory for newspapers.
July 1971 President Nixon appoints Egil "Bud" Krogh, Jr. and Kissinger aide David Young, Jr. to head a special investigations unit (nicknamed "the plumbers") to obtain evidence to discredit Ellsberg, who Henry Kissinger has deemed "the most dangerous man in America" who "has to be stopped." Krogh and Young hire G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, who hatch a plan to burglarize the offices of Ellsberg's one-time psychiatrist in Los Angeles. They carry out the plan in September 1971.
December 1971 A second indictment is issued against Anthony Russo and Ellsberg, naming them co-conspirators on 15 counts. Maximum penalty for Ellsberg is 115 years in prison, and for Russo, 35 years in prison.
June 17, 1972 Five men, including Liddy and Hunt, are arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee office in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C.
November 1972 President Nixon is re-elected in a landslide, winning 49 of 50 states.
January 1973 The United States v. Anthony Joseph Russo and Daniel Ellsberg trial begins in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, hearings and trials associated with the Watergate break-in begin in Washington, D.C.
January 27, 1973 The United States and North Vietnam sign the Paris Peace Accords, which lay out U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.
January 30, 1973 Liddy and Hunt are convicted of the Watergate break-in.
March 29, 1973 The last U.S. troops leave Vietnam.
April 5-7, 1973 Top Nixon aide John Ehrlichman secretly meets twice with Judge Matthew Byrne, who is presiding over the Russo/Ellsberg trial, and offers him a job as the new director of the F.B.I.
April 15-18, 1973 Ellsberg testifies in his own defense.
April 26, 1973 Byrne is informed (via the Watergate trials in Washington, D.C.) that Hunt and Liddy, under orders from the White House, burglarized the office of Lewis Fielding, Ellsberg's psychiatrist, in September 1971. Byrne reveals this shocking news in court the following day.
April 30, 1973 After being confronted by Ellsberg's defense lawyers, Byrne admits to meeting with Ehrlichman earlier in the month.
April 30, 1973 Top Nixon aides Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman resign due to their involvement in the Watergate break-in and cover-up. Nixon dismisses White House counsel John Dean, who has revealed to Watergate prosecutors information incriminating to the White House.
May 10, 1973 It is revealed in court that in 1969 the F.B.I. secretly wire-tapped and taped phone conversations between Ellsberg and then Kissinger aide Morton Halperin, who had earlier supervised the study that became the Pentagon Papers. The government claims that all records of the wiretapping have been lost.
May 10, 1973 The House of Representatives, for the first time, votes to cut off all funding for U.S. combat operations in Indochina.
May 11, 1973 Byrne grants a mistrial due to what he deems to be serious government misconduct. All charges against Ellsberg and Russo are dropped.
August 15, 1973 All U.S. bombing in Indochina ceases.
July 1974 The House Judiciary Committee passes articles of impeachment against Nixon; the Supreme Court orders the release of White House tapes that implicate Nixon in the Watergate scandal.
August 8, 1974 Facing probable impeachment, Nixon addresses the nation on television and announces that he will resign from his office "effective noon tomorrow."
April 29, 1975 The last Americans are evacuated by helicopter from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Within hours, the Saigon government surrenders to the National Liberation Front (also known as the Viet Cong), an event known as both "the liberation of Saigon" and "the fall of Saigon."

SOURCES
» The New York Times. "Times Topics: Pentagon Papers."
» Beacon Press. "Beacon Press and the Pentagon Papers."
» U.S. Department of Defense. "Clark M. Clifford."
» Daniel Ellsberg's Website. "Biography."
» Daniel Ellsberg's Website. "Extended Biography."
» Online Archive of California. "Finding Aid for the United States v. Anthony Joseph Russo and Daniel Ellsberg Transcripts, 1972-1973."
» Franklin, Bruce H. "Review of Wild Man: The Life and Times of Daniel Ellsberg, by Tom Wells." The Nation, 9 July 2001.
» "Judge William Byrne; Ended Trial Over Pentagon Papers." The Washington Post, 15 January 2006.
» BBC. "On this Day, November 7, 1972: Nixon takes second term by landslide."
» The Richard Nixon Foundation. "Richard Nixon — America's 37th President."
» Spartacus Educational. "Daniel Ellsberg."
» Spake, Amanda. "Ellsberg Rising." Mother Jones, September/October 1982.
» Navasky, Victor. "El Sid." Tablet, 12 August 2009.
» Owen, Taylor, and Ben Kiernan. "Bombs over Cambodia." The Walrus, October 2006.
» MWEB. "The Tet Offensive - 1968."
» The Washington Post. "Timeline."
» University of Southern California. "Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers."
» HistoryCentral.com. "U.S. Withdrawal From Vietnam Complete."
» The History Place. "The Vietnam War."
» The White House. "Richard M. Nixon."





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